When I was in the midst of packing my bags to leave London my flatmate (and dear friend) warned me that I would, at some stage in the near future, have a breakdown. She was convinced that, after the novelty of being “on holiday in Italy” had worn off, it would suddenly hit me that I was in a foreign country, indefinitely, and completely alone.
Ladies and gentlemen, I finally had this foreshadowed breakdown a couple of nights ago – seven weeks into my travels. I’m not even sure what set it off but I found myself in the fetal position crying my eyes out at 4 o’clock in the morning, asking myself what on earth I am doing with my life.
Although Florence is my favourite Italian city that I have visited so far, it is the first time I have felt completely alone on my travels.
In Rome, I made friends easily. I had three flatmates who I spent time with, and they introduced me to their friends, I befriended a couple of people from the gym, and I also forced myself to strike up conversations with random people whenever I was out and about.
As I was staying at a hostel in Naples, it was practically impossible for me to feel lonely. I hung out with other travellers every day, and never had to do anything alone – although some things, like hiking Vesuvius and visiting Pompei, I elected to do on my own.
The time I spent in Rome and Naples very much felt like a holiday, but being in Florence finally feels like real life. I’m living in a huge three bedroom apartment in the city centre, which is gorgeous but also lonely.
When I first arrived here, I barely left the house for the first three days. After spending two weeks where I literally did not have a minute of privacy, being alone was very much welcomed. Whenever I have ventured out, I have purposely not made any effort to speak to anyone. So I cannot complain about having not met anyone here, as it is my own fault.
That’s not the problem, however. The problem is that, when I was lying in my bed bawling in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, I was thinking about my future. I was thinking about how much I missed my friends, and I was thinking about the relationship I sacrificed in order to undertake this adventure. In true dramatic fashion, I also started thinking about the fact that not a single person knows my current address, as well as the fact that no one would even know if I died right now.
Knowing that I have only myself to rely on if things go tits up is both liberating and terrifying. If I find myself in the midst of a medical emergency, no one is going to come to my rescue. If I get lost, no one else is going to ask a stranger who doesn’t speak English for directions except me. No one is going to choose my next travel destination and organise my visas, transfers and accommodation except me.
I started thinking about the three months I will spend stationary in Croatia, suddenly panicked that I will not make friends and will instead turn into a complete hermit. Although I have met some awesome people over the past few weeks – and, indeed, over the past few years – I was suddenly sick of the fact that almost every important person in my life has been merely transient.
I know I was in a really tough place as I started feeling homesick for Perth – a place I have repeatedly sworn I would never live in again! The thought of being surrounded by my friends and family was suddenly very appealing.
But, as is the case whenever I am in a funk, I snapped out of it. I put on some happy music (apologies to my neighbours!) and flung open my windows to look at the beautiful city beneath me, illuminated by the moonlight. I smiled knowing that I am in a place I have always dreamed of visiting, having got here of my own accord. I slowly became happy again when I remembered the fundamental reasons why I wanted to embark on this journey, and I reminded myself of all the amazing places I am still yet to see.
In many respects, travelling alone is a wonderful thing. It hasn’t even been two months, and yet I have learnt so much about myself. I feel more independent and self-sufficient than ever before. Taking this extended/indefinite trip is something I have dreamed about for as long as I can remember. Although the circumstances weren’t perfect, I found myself with an opportunity to be selfish so I seized it.
I work to my own schedule, I have no one to check in with, and nobody is here to scold me when I eat dinner at 1am and sleep from 5am until noon. I can make plans with myself, and cancel them if my mood changes. If I want to sit in a cafe all afternoon I can, and if I want to skip visiting an overhyped museum I can.
Again, this is freeing yet also exhausting. Options can sometimes seem endless, and no one else will offer an input of where to go, what to see or even where to eat. But travelling alone teaches you a lot about yourself, and where your true interests and preferences lie. The life I live is just for me, and it will be indefinitely.
I have seen some amazing sights already and, although it would be nice to share them with someone else, I do not need another person to make this experience complete. In fact, I would argue that my experiences are often better than that of a couple or group of friends travelling together, as I am frequently forced to talk to strangers and agree to certain experiences I might have otherwise declined. I don’t think I would have gone on Vespa rides around the back streets of Rome at 2am if I was travelling with my boyfriend, for example.
It can be tempting to sit inside night after night. But I know I must keep forcing myself to go out and meet people, as I am yet to regret a friendship I have made on the road. At the same time, I am content doing most things solo.
When you spend the majority of your time alone, you learn to love yourself. The experience is extremely meditative, and I do not think I’ve ever felt so inspired to write (in a creative sense, as opposed to blogging). I have spent a lot of time thinking about past decisions and mistakes I have made, which indeed led me to have two mini breakdowns at the Trevi Fountain and in Pompei.
While the majority of the time it feels as though I am on an amazing, never-ending holiday, I know it is natural to have dips in my mood. I have chosen this path, to be alone, but that doesn’t mean I have to feel lonely.
I know this post is largely off-topic, but I wanted to write it for myself.
Have you ever travelled alone?